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Category: Abingdon

Ep 11 (Pt 1) – Atoms, Spies and Science Communication with Frank Close

In 2016 the Royal Institution commissioned a book pulling together a ‘baker’s dozen’ of the finest Christmas Lectures since 1885. One of the lectures chosen was the 1993 lecture by Professor Frank Close entitled ‘The Cosmic Onion‘.

(You can watch all five episodes – as broadcast by the BBC – on the Royal Institution website here. Accessible to anyone – young or old – it’s remains a thoroughly entertaining journey through physics, the universe and, well, everything.)

Frank’s journey into science communication started through writing for Nature and then New Scientist. A distinguished particle physicist, Frank’s CV takes in many of the world’s most important places for breakthroughs in physics: Stanford, CERN, Daresbury and Rutherford Appleton Lab. He is now Emeritus Professor at the University of Oxford.

He is also one of the world’s foremost experts on eclipses, having travelled all over the world to witness them. Frank also helped found the annual ATOM Festival or Science and Technology in Abingdon.

But it is as a writer and populiser of scientific ideas that Frank is best known. He has written critically acclaimed books on the neutrino, antimatter, the science of symmetry (‘Lucifer’s Legacy‘) and the story behind the hunt for the Higgs Bosun (‘The Infinity Puzzle‘).

 

 

 

 

In recent years, Frank has written about the stories behind the atomic spies, and his latest book ‘Trinity: The Treachery and Pursuit of the Most Dangerous Spy in History‘ (published in 2019) details the gripping story of Klaus Fuchs, who worked on both the Manhattan Project and at the UK’s nuclear laboratory at Harwell, and who co-ordinated the leaking of critical information that allowed the Soviet Union to develop their own atomic bomb.

He was vice-president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, has received the Royal Society’s Michael Faraday Prize and the Institute of Physics Kelvin Medal for outstanding contributions to science communication. Awarded an OBE in 2000 for services to science, in 2019 Frank was interviewed by Jim Al-Khalili on the BBC’s ‘The Life Scientific‘.

Such is the sheer range and history of Frank’s experiences, the episode is split into two parts.

Part 1 focuses on Science Communication: how he (accidentally) became a science writer in the first place, the story behind that groundbreaking 1993 Christmas Lecture, and finally his experiences as head of communications at CERN when he realised that effectively explaining big science to a wider world was critical in getting popular and political support for all science.

Along the way we explore how close the UK came to pulling out of CERN in the 1980s, how to create an explosion in your bare hands, and the secret to great research: it’s all about asking the right questions apparently…

(Listen now on SoundCloud – iTunes – Stitcher – for a comprehensive set of show notes, including links, analysis and organisation contact, consider becoming a supporter through Patreon – or email us for more details)

Part 2 (to be published later this month) will focus on his writing career – where he learned his craft, how he came to uncover some of the (still classified) secrets during the development of the UK’s atomic bomb, and the story behind his latest book. Frank will be talking about ‘Trinity’ at The Amey Theatre in Abingdon on November 20, 2019.

Ep 5 – Can a Science Festival change the world? The ATOM Festival of Science and Technology 2018

In this special episode of Stories from Science, we go behind the scenes of a very modern phenomenon: the Science Festival.

(Listen now on SoundCloud – iTunes – Stitcher)

Specifically, we peek behind the curtain of the ATOM Festival of Science and Technology, which has taken place in Abingdon-on-Thames every year for the last five years. This year’s festival took place in March 2018, and – in spite of a sudden and dramatic snowfall on the final weekend – was a huge success.

Kicking off with the Science Market (think Farmer’s Market but with science!) a whole week of talks, hands-on science activities, school’s outreach, and quirky science events culminated in the Family Science Day which saw over 500 people descend on the Yang Science Centre putting on VR goggles, looking at friendly (and not so friendly) microbes, messing around with fire, bubbles, dinosaurs, making cars and rockets – and learning about the scale of the universe.

In this episode we speak to the people involved in ATOM: the speakers, communicators, organisers and audience who came along.

Along the way, we’ll discover the peculiar properties of Iron Selenide, discover how much fun you can have with liquid nitrogen, and learn that even if you never liked science at school, there are still plenty of opportunities for you to have a career in science.

What Science Festivals do may seem obvious – lots of entertaining science events to inspire young and old alike – but when you pick apart a festival like ATOM, the results are more far-reaching, and – in at least one surprising instance – rather profound with implications for new opportunities for business and academia.

For ATOM, this is partly due to its special location in the Science Vale – between the science centres of Culham, Harwell and Oxford.

But there are lessons for everyone involve in science communication, outreach, events and other festivals. We hope this podcast gives you loads of inspiration and – for anyone involved in a science festival – ideas to help your festivals thrive.

Because the benefits of a well-run, community-centred science festival have all kinds of implications: for business, academia, town centre regeneration, inclusivity, education and community cohesion.

Ultimately we are talking about ‘Science Capital’ – a way in which science becomes  embedded within a community, for the benefit of all, with impacts felt far and wide.

(Listen now on SoundCloud – iTunes – Stitcher)

(Listen now on SoundCloud – iTunes – Stitcher)

 

 

 

 

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Ep 2 – How to win friends and STEMfluence people

During 2015, anyone driving down Faringdon Road in Abingdon would have seen an impressive building taking shape on the edge of the campus of Abingdon School. But as the bulk of the work on its new £14 million Science Centre progressed, behind the scenes the school was wrestling with a problem.


Tensions between public and private education are well-known and raise strong feelings on both sides. From the outset the school was committed to providing significant public access – and thus benefit – to the science centre, but just opening up the labs, even with the help of skilled technicians, wasn’t much of an option. Aside from practical safety considerations, the big challenge was to translate the needs and requirements of science users in the wider community into co-ordinated activities – and leverage resources available through wider STEM programmes across the UK.

(Listen now on SoundCloudiTunesStitcher)

The solution was to recruit a specialist science teacher and have that teacher spend 50% of his or her time co-ordinating activities, partnerships and connections to schools organisations in the local community and around the UK. The result was the Abingdon Science Partnership – and the results have been both impressive and significant.

On March 6, we travelled across Abingdon to meet with Megan Milarski and Jeremy Thomas at the Partnership (or ASP as it’s known to those in the know). Now three years old, it’s an almost unique science outreach organisation, but its success is offering up a template which might be replicable in other parts of the UK.

The sheer range of activities, clubs, services and partner organisations sometimes makes it difficult to neatly summarise the ASP, and so our interview was an ideal opportunity to dig down and understand the ambitions underlying the partnership. In doing so, we explore how the ASP works with local primary and secondary schools, scouting organisations, and partner organisations such as the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS), the Young Scientists Journal, Polar Explorers Programme, the Ogden Trust, CREST and many more.

Along the way we took a detour to the Southern Ocean, found a neat way of combining STEM and exercise – and explored the critical concept of ‘Science Capital’ in society.

(Listen now on SoundCloudiTunesStitcher)

(Update 1: two weeks after we conducted the interview, on Sunday March 18, over 500 people – mostly Abingdon-based families – attended the free Family Science Fair hosted by the Abingdon Science Partnership as part of the annual ATOM Festival and Science and Technology. It was a fitting example of the potential – and power – of the partnership, around which ATOM volunteers, University outreach groups, local schools, and science engagement organisations such as Curiosity Box and Bright Sparks Science coalesced to produce a stunning hands-on science event. You can see images from that event here.)

(Update 2: In April 2018, the Abingdon Science Partnership were shortlisted in the ‘Contribution to local community’ category for the #tesFEawards TES FE Awards 2018. This is a significant recognition of their work and activities, and wish them the best of luck when the awards are announced later this year)